As Nelson Mandela begins his 12-day tour of the United States today, the promoters of separate agendas ranging from Democratic presidential politics to civil rights to conservative criticism of the African National Congress are seeking to capture for their own advantage some of the reflected glare from the highly publicized trip.
Jesse L. Jackson plans to accompany the African leader through much of the first half of the tour, and perhaps all the way across the country to Los Angeles and Oakland, according to Jackson aides.
Jackson, who is likely to make a third bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, will be among the welcoming committee meeting the 71-year-old Mandela on his arrival in New York this morning.
Jackson plans to attend Mandela's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday and will introduce Mandela at a rally at the D.C. Convention Center that night.
In private, some of those involved in organizing the tour have said that keeping Jackson in check and making sure that Mandela and the fight against South African apartheid remain the focus of attention have been a constant concern.
But Roger Wilkins, who has overseen the arrangements for events during the tour, dismissed the private complaints and said: "Jesse was very helpful on many points and added to the project."
While Jackson appears to have landed a spot in center stage, civil rights groups have been conducting a private lobbying campaign to use the Mandela tour as a lever to force action on the Civil Rights Act of 1990. The legislation would reverse a series of 1989 Supreme Court decisions weakening affirmative-action programs and making it more difficult for civil rights plaintiffs to bring suit.
The goal of the civil rights leaders is to persuade the Democratic Senate leadership to bring the civil rights legislation to the Senate floor by the end of this week. They expect a Republican filibuster in an attempt to block consideration of the bill, setting up a possible vote to end the filibuster Tuesday, when Mandela will be in the Capitol to address the joint session.
"The Republicans will be filibustering against a civil rights bill just when the world's most famous civil rights leader speaks to the nation," one Democratic analyst said in describing the strategy.
Supporters of the civil rights legislation also said they hope such tactics during the Mandela visit could be used to force President Bush to state clearly whether he intends to veto the bill as it is now written. The admininistration has indicated its opposition to language that it contends could result in corporations hiring employees on the basis of racial, ethnic or gender quotas, but it is not clear whether this would lead to a Bush veto.
In a separate move, a number of conservatives and Republicans are seeking to use the Mandela visit to focus attention on some of the more controversial stands he and the African National Congress (ANC) have taken. But conservative criticism of Mandela and the ANC could hamper the GOP drive to restore Republican support among black voters.
The Heritage Foundation has been a leading forum for the discussion of plans to adapt conservative Republican principles to make them attractive to blacks and other minorities. However, Mandela's ideological stands are antithetical to those of many American conservatives, and the Heritage Foundation has issued a broadside attacking his views.
Criticizing Mandela's support of nationalization of private industry in South Africa, Michael Johns, a Heritage policy analyst, wrote: "Because of his role as a leader in the fight against oppression in South Africa, Nelson Mandela should be welcomed in this country. But the man who hails Fidel Castro, Moammar Gadhafi and South Africa's Communist Party, and who continues to advocate the use of violence against civilians for political purposes, is no friend of peace or liberty."
Two Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Dan Burton (Ind.) and Toby Roth (Wis.), plan to raise similar issues. Roth is scheduled to be on a panel of questioners of Mandela for an ABC television show, and has already prepared questions on nationalization and ANC ties to communist governments. Burton plans to enter in the Congressional Record today a series of questions including: "Why have you embraced Yasser Arafat when the PLO continues to engage in terrorism?" and "Why did you call Moammar Gadhafi a 'comrade in arms' when most world leaders consider him a terrorist?"
During the early stages of the planning for Mandela's trip here, a number of Jewish leaders in New York were preparing to protest his ties to Arafat and Gadhafi, but Mandela defused the protest efforts when he met with Jewish leaders on June 10 in Geneva. "As far as the African National Congress is concerned -- and that is my view as an individual -- there has never been any doubting the existence, de facto and de jure, of the State of Israel within secure boundaries," Mandela said.
That statement, according to sources here, greatly increased the fund-raising prospects of the Mandela tour, which has major fund-raising events scheduled in New York and Los Angeles.
These concerns pale, however, in comparison with the massive struggles taking place within cities just to get a chance to see and hear Mandela. In New York, for example, most of the planning was initially dominated by politicians with ties to Manhattan. Only after an intense lobbying effort by black leaders in Brooklyn did planners relent and make an appearance at Boys and Girls High in Brooklyn Mandela's first event after his arrival at Kennedy International Airport.
In Miami, black civil rights and civic leaders were not as successful. Mandela will speak there to a union group while local leaders will have to watch him on closed-circuit television in another room in the Miami Beach Convention Center. "We've been invited to dinner but we have to eat in the kitchen," complained Johnnie McMillian, president of the Miami branch of the NAACP.